Inside the WhatsApp hack: How an Israeli technology was used to spy

Countries from Rwanda to Saudi Arabia accused of spying on dissidents and journalists

Earlier this year, Faustin Rukundo’s phone started to ring at odd times. The calls were always on WhatsApp — sometimes from a Scandinavian number, sometimes a video call — but the caller would hang-up before he could answer. When he rang back no one would pick up.

Mr Rukundo, a British citizen who lives in Leeds, had reason to be suspicious. As a member of a Rwandan opposition group in exile, he has lived for several years in fear of the security services of the central African nation where he was born.

In 2017, his wife, also a British national, was arrested and held for two months in Rwanda when she returned for her father’s funeral. Unidentified men in black suits have previously queried her co-workers about her route to the childcare center where she works, he says. His own name has shown up in a widely circulated list of enemies of the government of Rwanda titled “Those who must be killed immediately”.

In the two decades since Paul Kagame became president of Rwanda, dozens of dissidents have disappeared or died in unexplained circumstances around the world. In response, those willing to criticize the regime or organize against it, such as Mr Rukundo, say they have learnt to be cautious, masking their presence on the internet and using encrypted messaging services such as WhatsApp.

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